All Saints' Church, East Finchley

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Homily for Easter 5 (A)

“I tell you solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself.”

In my homilies, I spend most of the time reminding people of God’s love for them and how our incorporation into the mystery of Jesus Christ means new life in this life and everlasting life in the Kingdom. Despite our straying, God has never let go of us and in the gift of his Son has bridged the gap that existed between sinful humanity and his holy presence. God will chase you and harry you, however much you try to ignore him, until you let Him love you and save you. Good News, indeed.

This week, however, we are looking, through our readings, at the corollary of this message. It’s less about God’s coming towards us than us going towards God. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”, says Jesus. He also says that “whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works because I am going to the Father”. So God is present in Jesus, and, not just in Jesus, but also in the disciple who follows him. And what does this curious thing mean at the end when he says: “he will perform even greater works because I am going to the Father.” This is, surely, a prophecy the descent of the Spirit on the church at Pentecost which follows the Ascension of Christ. After Pentecost, the Spirit of Jesus is given to all believers that they may become, as Peter says: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” The presence of Jesus Christ is multiplied in the persons of his disciples and gathered into one in the body of Church. Wherever the disciple is, there is Jesus Christ. Wherever the disciple is there is the Church, whole and entire, in miniature.

Once, when I was in Rome, in 1987, before I was ordained, I was staying in the Venerable English College in Rome as a tourist, and I decided to go out for a walk. Those of you who know Rome will remember how beautiful that particular part of the City is: the Piazza Farnese and the Pizza Campo dei Fiori  are made for happy wandering, and it is not surprising that I have no memory of having had a particular purpose for my sortie. At the door of the English College an angel was waiting for me. He was in the form of a man, and he asked me if I would like a ticket to a papal consecration of Bishops. When is it? I asked him. In about fifteen minutes, he replied. Burbling confused thank yous I grabbed the ticket and dashed out the door. Connoisseurs of Rome will realize how well I did to get from that part of Rome to the basilica of St Peter’s in about 15 minutes on foot. I got in, to my surprise, and was by no means the last to arrive. What I then witnessed was extraordinary: an amazing elevated and inspiring occasion in which a great number, twenty or so, priests, were consecrated Bishops by the then Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. The building was vast, the throng vast, the sense of occasion overwhelming. The most impressive moment for me was when the Pope laid his hands, in silence, on the head of each candidate for the episcopate, then every Bishop present, every Bishop in Rome who was not on a sickbed, did the same. It was a lengthy, silent and powerful vision of the Church. Finally the Pope received a large ceremonial copy of the Gospels and laid it on the head of each Bishop, open, where it was held by two Deacons, as the Pope pronounced the Prayer of Consecration on each one of them. All of this, taking place in deafening silence, apart from the rustling sound of expensive ecclesiastical robes and vestments. I never saw the angel who offered the ticket to that event again, but I thank him today for giving me a vision of the church catholic: vast, majestic, beautiful, awe-inspiring. It was a vision that has sustained me, on one level, ever since. I wish that you had all been there. But, and this is one of those big buts, in the years that followed I found that the Church is not just seen in those big, glorious visions, wonderful though they are, but is also seen to be just as glorious when two or three ordinary Christians gather to pray in the Lord’s name; when a faithful group meets every day to celebrate the eucharist or to pray the divine office; when a life which was empty and desperate suddenly finds the love of God; when someone who is bereaved and sorrowful suddenly wakes up to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what it means for the one that they have lost; when someone who is ill is mysteriously healed or strengthened; when someone who is dying is blessed by confidence in the love of God. Here too, the Church is huge and beautiful, even when it lights up a little life, a little corner of human existence. The problem with being a priest is the challenge of living among so much grace and so much beauty, being forced to see, day after day, the glory of God in little things and not being overwhelmed by it.

But the priest is just a disciple, like you. We are the same. Wherever I am, I am the Church: wherever you are you are the Church. You may think that you are an occasional visitor, a newcomer, not a member of the in-crowd, you think that you are the Chairman of the out-crowd, you may not know why you are here, but, listen, if you have been baptized, you are the Church; a moving, living basilica in yourself. There is no limit to the grace that can fill your life. Let’s, today, not just talk about God’s love for you, but your love for God, your power to move towards him, to be part of his Kingdom on earth: a transforming extraordinary presence in a world yearning for God’s grace. The readings today are a reminder and a challenge: you are : “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”

God has called you. Discipleship is a beautiful and powerful thing. So, what are you going to do about it?

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